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Sunday 4 December 2016

Ryan revels in his Dublin return

'It was like making my debut' says O'Dwyer

Ryan O'Dwyer
Ryan O'Dwyer

As Ryan O'Dwyer made his exit on Saturday night, still a little shaken up from his head-first collision with a Wexford opponent, his former manager was there to greet him.

"Ah, you're f***ing soft!" quipped Anthony Daly, on RTÉ patrol at Croke Park for Dublin's Leinster SHC quarter-final against Wexford.

He didn't mean it, of course. His former boss knows, better than anyone, that O'Dwyer is hewn from granite.

But even his powers of recovery have been tested, like never before, since that fateful night late last October when he was the victim of an unprovoked attack outside a Birmingham night club.

The Tipp native suffered a catalogue of injuries - a fractured skull, broken jaw and, worst of all, massive bleeding on the brain - that left more than just his hurling career in the balance from that one-punch assault.

Unbowed

Yet, as we've seen time and again on the hurling field, O'Dwyer does 'bloodied but unbowed' better than anyone. So he resolved to get back to health, back to fitness - and back with his adopted Dubs.

Saturday was a red-letter night in that journey. He came off the bench after 56 minutes - and marked his return with a point. "It was like going out making my debut again," the 29-year-old enthused. "It felt special. Pity the weather wasn't a bit better."

This being Ryan O'Dwyer, however, it was only to be expected that - in stoppage time - he would crash head-first into Wexford's Diarmuid O'Keeffe. And just as typical that he made it back onto his feet - with no obvious sign, for once, of a pumping wound.

"I didn't really see that one coming," he later admitted. "It's good to get them and see that I can actually take it. It was a bang on the head and they took me off but the match was over. If there was 10 minutes left I'd have stayed on, but it was a precaution.

"As I walked off, Anthony Daly was there 'Ah you're f****** soft!'" he added with a laugh. "It's just good to get back. The people that I've been surrounded by the past couple of months, whether it's teammates, management, physios or family, they've all been so positive.

"Even when I was at my worst - like my personality totally changed (during the recovery). I was horrible. I was agitated. Thank God the doctor said that this is a side-effect - I'd be irritable, I'd be aggressive.

"My family stuck with me and especially my fiancée, Cliodhna ... without her I wouldn't be where I am today."

His colleagues were another big help, especially as impatience threatened to get the better of O'Dwyer. He's been back jogging since mid-February, but in full contact training for only a month or so.

"Doing the running was very hard because I could see the lads training and I was just getting pissed off," he admitted. "I went through every emotion there was to go through because at times I'd be like 'Yeah, don't worry, I'll be back' ... and then other times it was like 'F*** it, I'm not going to get back.'

"At times I was ready to throw in the towel, but for the support I had from my teammates - like, they'd be coming over for a water break and they'd be going 'That's it, Ryan, well done.'

"The support I've got off the management has just been phenomenal and I'm just happy to be involved with such a group of players."

The doctors set targets and, O'Dwyer being the stubborn sort, he set his own targets and even exceeded them. "I don't think there's any words to describe how I feel just to get back on the pitch," he says.

Goal

"I just need to get sharp now - apart from the two club games (with Kilmacud) that's the first bit of hurling I've had this year. So, yeah, it's great to get back. I've hit a goal but, at the same time, I'll reassess things and make other goals."

Such as June 11 and a Portlaoise date with Kilkenny, against whom everyone "sets their standard. It's going to be a massive task but all we can do is give 100 percent. All we can do is look after ourselves."

Speaking of looking after oneself, and as a hurler who relishes physical contact like no other, had he contemplated a change of playing style?

Silly question!

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